Andrew Flowers wrote a great explainer on basic income for FiveThirtyEight. Universal basic income is the idea that everyone in a country should be given a “citizen’s wage” to be spent on anything. Proponents argue it would relieve families of financial anxiety, prepare society for inevitable automation (Humans Need Not Apply), and allow people to pursue hobbies, art and education over jobs they might not value.
From Flower’s piece What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money:
“Basic income is about wanting to embrace automation,” said Albert Wenger, a partner at the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures. In his forthcoming book “World After Capital,” Wenger argues scarcity has driven epoch shifts: The invention of agriculture changed the scarcity from food to land; the Enlightenment and subsequent industrial developments shifted scarcity from land to capital; but as computers and the internet have transformed us into an information society, capital is no longer scarce. “We have enough physical capital in the world. but it’s unequally distributed,” Wenger said. The last big scarcity is attention. “What are we actually spending our time on, both collectively and individually?”
As a college student in the Netherlands, I get a low-interest monthly loan that covers tuition, books and living. Although I will have to pay it all back eventually, it’s a privilege I’m incredibly grateful for which I think actually very much resembles basic income. Being able to work only when I want to spend more than what I get from the loan, allows me to focus on doing well in my classes, spend time on research, and pursue my hobbies and personal projects.
Of course, my case is only anecdotal. The FiveThirtyEight piece includes a lot of data and statistics about the viability of basic income, and it’s certainly worth the lengthy read (here).